Least Worst Podcast Ever

The WEE Studios Logo (No, they are not underwater)

 

The WEE Studios Logo (No, they are not underwater)

The WEE Studios Logo (No, they are not underwater)

Long time readers will know that I’ve written about podcasts before on a couple of occasions (and even attempted to host my own podcast for a little while, which, unfortunately, fell by the wayside), but today I want to focus on one in particular that is a bit different from some of the other podcasts I’ve talked about. Actually, that might be putting it mildly…

Most of the other podcasts I’ve mentioned before, such as This American Life and Get Up On This, are juggernauts in the podcasting world. This particular podcast does happen to be based on a juggernaut, namely The Simpsons, but is more like an indie production than a blockbuster.

Worst Episode Ever is a podcast “for people who love The Simpsons, by people who love The Simpsons, about how much [the hosts] hate The Simpsons.” Don’t take that the wrong way though, both Dan Mulhall and Jack Picone, the hosts, are diehard fans of The Simpsons. You’ll routinely hear them quote obscure jokes off the top of their head and Dan Mulhall himself even hosts a Simpsons trivia night at a bar in New York. The idea behind the podcast is to watch a “post-classic” episode (usually meaning something beyond season 8 or so) and then have an in-depth discussion about it before running it through their HIPPO grading system to place it in their list, the list being the ultimate goal of the podcast: to find the worst episode of The Simpsons ever.

So, I’m a diehard Simpsons fan too. Who knows how many times I’ve watched (and will continue to watch) episodes from season 2 to 8, and my friends have definitely heard me on a couple of occasions say “oh, this is like that moment in The Simpsons where…” However, before this podcast, I hadn’t watched the show in years, because, quite frankly, it’s a shell of its former self. I don’t think you can even compare the two anymore and I kind of hate the later seasons for being so bad, so, admittedly, there’s a bit of fun to be had hearing them tear into a particularly awful episode.

However, Worst Episode Ever, contrary to its name, isn’t actually a podcast of negativity. The hosts, along with any guests they might have that week, go into each episode trying to give it the benefit of the doubt. Better yet, their criticism isn’t limited to just saying something sucked. They actually try to understand why they disliked something, going to great lengths at times to discuss issues. Sometimes, they’ll posit a theory in one episode and then expand upon it in consecutive episodes. Jack Picone is himself a screenwriter, so he also tends to understand the inner mechanisms at work.

So far, so good, right? Well, it gets even better (though it might depend on who you ask…). Worst Episode Ever is ostensibly a podcast about The Simpsons, but it’s also a podcast filled with random characters and tangents that the hosts follow at their whim. A simple slip of the tongue with mispronouncing a word might lead to the creation of a cult-favorite character who appears throughout the rest of the show, examples include Groophic, Hemus, and Freet (more on them soon). Occasionally, Dan and Jack will even tell stories about their own childhoods or personal lives that are sometimes related to the episode they’re discussing and sometimes not so much… But they’re always hilarious.

The hosts, Jack Picone (left) and Dan Mulhall (right)

The hosts, Jack Picone (left) and Dan Mulhall (right)

This leads into one of the best things I can say about this podcast: Dan and Jack are relatable. They were just a couple of dudes living in New York who decided to create a podcast about The Simpsons and they’ve never lost that sense of being humble. They’re easy to reach on Twitter or Reddit, if you want to say something to them, and they’re also genuinely fond of  their fans.

If you’re interested in checking them out, and I highly recommend you do, you can find their podcast through any regular podcasting app as well as through weepodcast.com. They’ve also recently started a Patreon page so you can help support them with a monthly donation. Finally, if you have no interest in the Simpsons (and have still made it this far), they also have a 90s themed podcast called 90s Percentile that’s had a lot of great guests on it, including Laura Jane Grace, a previous subject in one of my own articles.

Jack and Dan just recently released their 100th episode of Worst Episode Ever (congrats, guys!) and a lot has happened during those 100 episodes: episodes have been ranked; theories have been made; trends have been observed; and characters have been created. As a starter’s guide for all of you, I’ve created a brief glossary of some of the more important terms you’ll need if you decide to hop in from where they are now (though I suggest going back and listening from the start).

Worst Episode Ever Glossary for Newbies

  • Groophic: Originated from a mispronunciation of “graphic,” Groophic started off as a Muzzy-like creature lecturing kids on remembering to wear their bike helmets before transitioning into a conspiracy-theory believing creature who still occasionally lectures kids on remembering to wear their bike helmets.
  • Hemus: A hillbilly prospector who started life by ending every sentence with “It’s me, Hemus!” Sadly, he doesn’t do that as much anymore… But is a cult favorite nevertheless.
  • Freet: The introduction of Freet was something that Jack was definitely not amused by and it also gave-way to their new rule of each character needing to have three characteristics in order to be a fully-fleshed out character. Here are Freet’s: he likes to collect stamps; he’s never been in love, but he’s putting himself out there; and he enjoys cryptograms.
  • Lala: A term for lawyers that only lawyers are allowed to use. Dan himself is a lawyer, but Jack uses the term sometimes, much to Dan’s chagrin.
  • Little Ghost Girl: A little ghost girl who was eaten by Groophic and sounds like Werner Herzog.
  • The Bus Stop: Where all of their characters hang out. As they wait for the bus to get home, they’ll occasionally pop in and join the podcast for a bit. The bus never seems to arrive so that stop is pretty crowded by now.
  • HIPPO: The official ranking system. It has four categories, which are humor, integrity, production, and originality. Each gets a grade from 0 to 5 though humor and integrity are given more weight than production and originality. In the very early days of the podcast, the hosts used to simply add each episode to their list based on their gut feeling, but about 15 episodes in, they started using this system.

Based on a True Story…But Who Cares?

the-conjuring-ed-and-lorraine

The film industry has long had a rather turbulent relationship with true stories. You’ve all seen the infamous “based on a true story” tagline and probably shrugged your shoulders at it. You can find these films in practically any genre with one of my favorite examples occurring in the horror genre. Any kid that grew up in the 90s will likely remember the hoopla surrounding the release of The Blair Witch Project. I still have a very clear memory of the first time I heard about it, which was through my older brother who, as older brothers are wont to do, had a tendency to tease me. This time, he was telling my poor, naïve younger self that there was a documentary coming out about a real witch that snuck into a village and kidnapped their children. Of course, they were never seen again…

As we all know, The Blair Witch Project isn’t really based on a true story and, contrary to the claims of the excellent marketing campaign, was entirely fictional. However, there are many films even in the horror genre that attempt to strike a balance between being fictional and being based on reality. Of these many, the two that I want to focus on the ones based on the adventures of the real life Warrens, The Conjuring 1 and 2.

Ed and Lorraine Warren were a married couple who also happened to be paranormal investigators and have been associated with some of the most famous paranormal incidents of the last century including the Amityville haunting and the Enfield poltergeist. Ed himself was a self-taught demonologist while Lorraine claims to be a clairvoyant, as in someone who is able to gain information through extrasensory perception. Putting aside belief in the paranormal, the Warrens have been criticized for exploiting these situations for their own personal gain. As Ed himself says on their charmingly outdated website, “They said, ‘Ed Warren wants to be written up in newspapers, he wants to have books and movies. He wants to be exposed to the public” because he insisted on having people from the media come with them claiming that he wanted to “expose the devil and expose evil.” In addition, people accused them of profiting from these events but Ed responded by saying “we don’t get any easy money and the money we get we deserve and we don’t charge for our services.”

the-conjuring-ed-and-lorraine

In any event, there are two issues at heart here regarding the authenticity of these stories: the truthfulness of the Warrens and the truthfulness of the actual paranormal activity. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly where I fall regarding both of these but consider me skeptical. To be even more honest, what the hell does it even matter?

When the second Conjuring film came out, I listened to people criticize the movie for not mentioning the possibility of the Warrens being conmen or frauds. Even people who generally liked the movie found this to be a valid criticism of the film itself but it is honestly irrelevant regarding these movies. Let me explain beyond “it doesn’t matter.”

The Conjuring films are, first and foremost, horror films. They are not documentaries and are not obliged to cover all of the facts even if they are “based on a true story.” Although these movies are based on supposedly real hauntings, their goal isn’t to give you both sides of the tale. Their goal is to scare the living daylights out of you and they’re really good at doing that. The director, James Wan (Saw, Insidious), shows a clear understanding of what makes a horror movie effective. Some might argue that his films are derivative of older horror films but it makes a world of difference when he actually understands the language of an effective horror film. He doesn’t have a jump scare every other minute, complete with an artificial loud sound. Every jump scare sound comes from within the film world itself, not from the film soundtrack, and he also knows how to make them all the more effective by building tension. There’s a good amount of time in the beginning of both films where he is simply building up tension without a single jump scare disrupting it. Now, imagine if all of this expertly crafted tension were broken up with “oh, btw, this might not have actually happened.” Wan knows what to sacrifice in terms of reality in order to craft an effective film.

Going back to the Warrens, I argue that this also applies to their depiction in the films. There is never any doubt regarding the authenticity of the Warrens in the film. They are our protagonists and, this is going to sound a lot more sappy then I intend it to sound, their love for each other is the heart of both films. The chemistry between the two stars, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, is palpable and feels incredibly genuine, adding a human touch to films about paranormal disturbances. They are our heroes. They’re the ones we root for and it’s not just because that’s what the script demands, it’s because Wan actually makes us care about them. As funny as this may sound to say, there’s actually a heartwarming scene amidst all of the horror in The Conjuring 2 where Ed takes out an acoustic guitar and plays Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” to the family of children that they’re there to help as Lorraine silently watches him from afar. You can sense the love she feels for him and the fear that she might lose him. It’s a scene that sounds corny but ends up feeling so genuine because we care about these characters.

the-perron-children-in-the-conjuring

Now, imagine if this same scene were surrounded by moments hinting or downright showing that the Warrens are actually be frauds. How can you root for characters that are possibly exploiting a scared family? Or, hell, how can you root for them even if they’re helping the family exploit others. It changes the film entirely and that’s why I say “it doesn’t matter” if someone brings up the authenticity of the real-life Warrens while discussing The Conjuring films. There is certainly an interesting story to be had there, but that question is completely irrelevant to the stories in these films. In these films, the Warrens are the heart at the center, and I don’t think they would work half as well if Wan hadn’t expertly made it so.

It’s possible to enjoy a film depicting the Warrens as genuinely good people trying to help others, while also being skeptical of the real-life Warrens. There are interesting stories to be told in both cases, but if you are criticizing The Conjuring for not covering this aspect of the Warrens, then you are criticizing The Conjuring for not being a different movie all-together.

A Month in the Life of Mr. Teacher

A student's artistic impression of me
A student's artistic impression of me

A student’s artistic impression of me

As a relatively fresh graduate from the University of Helsinki, I was fortunate enough to be able to secure a job in my chosen career relatively quickly. This fall, I’ve started teaching English as a Home Language in various schools throughout the Helsinki area. I’ve also recently begun doing extra hours as a resource teacher in an elementary school. It’s been a hectic month or so but it’s been an enlightening experience and some of the most fulfilling work I’ve yet to do. I’ve done a bit of teaching before but this appears to be the first real step I’m taking in my own career. I have to let that sink in for a bit… I’ve got a career. Or at least the beginning of one.

Hear that? Yes, kids, it’s possible to actually get a career. Yes, kids, there IS life after uni. And yes, kids, you’re probably going to feel like you’re in way over your head. But remember: everybody starts somewhere. It’s a learning process. Here, for your entertainment, are a few things I’ve learned so far:

-       Some of the more troublesome students can turn into some of the hardest working students the next moment. And vice-versa…

-       You can never have enough photocopies.

-       I got way too excited about getting to read some of my own childhood favorites to the students. It’s such a surreal experience.

-       Just be prepared for the fact that 90% of kids won’t react to the stories the same way you did.

-       You can also count watching childhood favorite films like An American Tail as part of your job.

-       The one day that I have to bend over to pick something up off the floor and a kid sees my underwear poking out, is the one day that I happened to wear pink underwear. FML.

-       I’ve learned what it’s like to watch the same youtube clip every day of the week. Outside of my personal life, I mean.

-       I learned about nandus through LeVar Burton reading Nina Nandu’s Nervous Nogging on Reading Rainbow.

-       I finally understand the joke in season 2 of Community when Troy freaks out about meeting LeVar Burton.

-       I also understand Troy freaking out. LeVar Burton is so freaking charming.

-       The little surprises are some of the best. For example, when I showed the Reading Rainbow clip to my fifth and final group, one student pointed out that there’s a lot of words beginning with “n” in the story. I hadn’t expected any of my students to actually point that out.

-       Cell phones… Am I right??

OK, as much as I’m tempted to leave it there, I have to share one more anecdote. Just this past week, after I had let my class go and they had all filed out of the room, one student walked back in. He started walking towards me so I prepared to ask him what was up when he suddenly stretched his arms out to give me a hug. I can’t begin to tell you how much that moment meant to me. It was the most powerful praise I have ever gotten and made up for every frustrating or infuriating moment I might have experienced up to this point. Best of all, it confirmed for me that this isn’t just my career now. It’s my life.

Olly Olly…

The Cast. From the left: Clarissa, Ren, Alex, Jonas, and Nona.

Spending four years of my childhood living in Italy meant a lot of warm summer nights, which of course meant neighborhood games of hide and seek or kick the can. Crouched down in a dank bush, I could feel my heart pounding against my chest as I waited for the chance to run up to the can to give it a swift kick, sending it flying as I called out “olly olly oxen free,” to let any caught players know that they were once again free.

Some of that same feeling of adolescent tension comes through in the indie game Oxenfree. Developed by Night School Studio, a small development team founded by Telltale (The Walking Dead game) and Disney alumni, Oxenfree is a beautiful-looking mystery filled with a pleasing mix of humor and horror. It’s a game that doesn’t explain much at first, but fills in details along the way, giving you the opportunity to shift the story and characters as you progress.

The game begins on a small ferry taking you to a local island. “You” being Alex, a teenage girl getting to know her new step-brother Jonas for the first time. Joining the two is Ren, Alex’s quick-witted best friend, who has planned this trip in the spirit of a local tradition. The island they’re heading to is abandoned at this time of the year, save for one old woman who lives in isolation, and has played host to many groups of teens looking to camp out for the night, have a few drinks, and possibly explore some of the islands supposedly supernatural elements…

Once you get to the island, you meet up with Nona, a girl that Ren has a crush on, and Clarissa, a snarky teen who clearly has issues with Alex. The adventures on the island start off simple enough, with the five of them playing truth or dare around a campfire on the beach. Things start escalating pretty quickly though when Ren talks Alex into using her portable radio to test out an urban legend: that if you tune into certain frequencies at certain spots on the island, you might hear something altogether unnatural.

To describe more of the story would be to start spoiling some of the surprises, although your own experience might differ from my own. This is because Oxenfree has a cool conversation system that lets you, as Alex, constantly chose from different options on how to interact with the other characters. Want to be as rude to Clarissa as she is to you? Go for it. Want to tell Ren to stop being a wimp and ask Nona out? Your choice. Want to spill the beans to Nona that Ren likes her? Again, your call.

The Conversation System in Action (Screencap)

The Conversation System in Action (Screencap)

In execution, it’s pretty simple, and actually, one of the more interesting aspects of this system is how fluid it is. The incredibly talkative will be conversing to either Alex or each other. Then, when it’s almost time for your character to possibly say something, three word bubbles appear around her head indicating possible responses. All you have to do is press the button corresponding to the response you want to give and the conversation continues to flow smoothly. It feels more effortless than those in other games where the action might pause as you read the lengthier response options. Here, it’s usually just a word or two, yet I never got the feeling that the description didn’t fit the actual lines that Alex then says. Because of the fluidity of it, it’s easy to lull yourself into the dreamlike world of the game. It just feels natural, walking around with your friends as you respond to their comments.

Dreamlike is actually a pretty apt way to describe the visuals of the game. Being a side-scrolling game (think of the camera angle in Super Mario. Bros), the characters themselves only take up a small fraction of the screen, the rest being gorgeous landscapes that actually reminded me of scenes from the infamous Lars von Trier film Antichrist. That may sound like an odd comparison to make, but if you’ve seen the film, think of the sequences where Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character imagines floating through the wilderness. That kind of eerie atmosphere is present in the background visuals of Oxenfree.

The Cast. From the left: Clarissa, Ren, Alex, Jonas, and Nona.

The Cast. From the left: Clarissa, Ren, Alex, Jonas, and Nona.

The character models, as I said, are rather tiny, but there are moments in the game where they might take a selfie, which can then be viewed in the pause menu. The selfies look great, letting you see the characters drawn in lush detail, and are one of the best indicators of the dev-team’s past involvement with animation. The drawing style has all the charm of the best animated films, bringing to mind something along the lines of The Iron Giant. It’s these glimpses of the characters that help make them feel fully realized, while also serving to add a tinge of nostalgia. Even better, on occasion, the selfies might let you catch glimpses of ghostly figures that you can’t otherwise see…

Oxenfree is, at its heart, a game about nostalgia and loss. It’s set in that awkward phase of a person’s life when they’re not a kid anymore, yet not quite an adult either. As the story develops, you begin to learn more about their pasts, and, without giving anything away, you learn of the tragedies that some of them have had to experience. I actually began to notice that these revelations changed the way I interacted with certain characters, helping me better understand some of them. And as I became more attached to them, I became all the more certain that I had to make sure they all made it to the end.

In essence, Oxenfree is a game that is easy to slide yourself into. The dialogue choices you make and the actions you perform throughout the game affect the way the story progresses, making it uniquely your experience. But in addition to that more mechanical idea, the art-style and production of Oxenfree is clear enough to give you a story to follow and characters to latch onto, yet vague enough to let you mix your own adolescent memories with the dreamlike world presented in the game. It’s a wonderful balance that proves to make for a compelling journey you won’t soon forget.

It’s a game that captures the essence of my old childhood experiences… The nostalgic memories of the warm Italian nights. The rapid beating of my heart as tension continued to build. And the thrill of getting to save my friends with a ringing cry of “olly olly oxen free!”

Oxenfree is currently available on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Steam.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the BTSB Class of 2016

Jesper 2

It’s been an eventful year. Not just for BTSB, but for the world in general. We live in a time that I believe could easily go down as a crucial turning point in history. There’s a lot of conflict in the air, and it seems increasingly inevitable that something has to give. What this means is that it’s more important than ever to stay informed, to stay aware, and to have an opinion. Of course, at the same time, it’s still just as important to stay humble, stay aware of your own mistakes or shortcomings, and to be able to change or adjust your opinion if needed. It’s impossible to predict where we’ll be going. Put away your glass ball. We live in an uncertain time.

Because of this, it’s no small comfort to have something that you can believe in and something you can depend on. As I end my own tenure as editor-in-chief, I relinquish control of something that is very dear to me, something that I’ve been a part of now for over 4 years. While this could easily be something difficult to do, I can honestly say that I couldn’t be more at ease. You know that uncertainty I was talking about? There are many things about the future that I’m not as certain about as I used to be, including whether we might actually have to endure a Trump presidency (had to get one more Trump reference in before the end of my term). But if there’s one thing I’m certain about, it’s that the future of Better Than Sliced Bread is in excellent hands.

I have the absolute pleasure of leaving BTSB in the more-than-capable hands of Elizabeth Oakes. Elizabeth has been a part of BTSB since October of 2013, but has been honing her writing skills for far longer than that. Her voice comes through in every piece she writes, whether it’s about literary translation or webcam channels starring a squirrel in a miniature coffee shop. Her talent and experience have made her an invaluable part of the BTSB team, and make her the perfect candidate to lead BTSB into the future.

Elizabeth, as the new editor-in-chief, will be leading a ragtag group of editors and staff including our new web wizard staff, consisting of Inka Vappula and Juho Kajava. In fact, Inka will be taking on double duty as she’ll also be the official Secretary for BTSB Meetings. I’m also happy to say that I’ll at least be staying on as the Social Media Administrator. I want to wish our new staff the best of luck and a hearty congratulations! Furthermore, I want to give a big shout-out of thanks to Ari Mäntykivi, Laura Kurki, Esko Suoranta, and Elizabeth herself for their work this past year keeping BTSB running like a well-oiled machine.

As for me, my own future goes back to that theme of uncertainty. During my tenure, I’ve graduated from HelsinkiUniversity and even managed to secure a year-long teaching gig for myself. However, even as I set forth on a new personal journey, my heart still belongs to BTSB. My future certainly has some of that unpredictability to it (and what’s life without at least a bit of that?), but I’m at least certain that I’ll continue to be somehow connected with BTSB for the near foreseeable future, at least as the aforementioned Social Media Administrator. More than anything though, I’m looking forward to seeing some brand new editors start to populate these pages alongside the more seasoned writers. If there’s one more thing for me to say, it goes out to anyone that has every considered writing for BTSB: just do it.

Oh, and always wear sunscreen.

All the best,

Jesper Simola

Current and soon-to-be former Editor-in-Chief.

Our summer issue kicks off with some slightly under-the-radar recommendations including Esko’s piece on Babymetal, Elizabeth’s article on demented sock puppets, and my own piece on the indie game Oxenfree. These are sure to keep you busy when it’s raining too hard to play Pokémon Go outside. On top of those recommendations, we’ve also got Kaisa’s coloring book art based on DC Lassies for you to fill in however you want! That’s not all! We’ve also got two continuations of previous articles! First, Laura finishes off her journal on job hunting (read it to find out whether it’s a happy ending!). Finally, I have the pleasure of introducing another article in BTSB’s own “I Was Wrong About…” feature! This one chronicles Milla’s move to Jyväskylä and how she was wrong about what it would be like living there.

The Four Horsewomen of Wrestling

4 Horsewomen

The most prominent stereotype associated with professional wrestling is that of two muscular and nearly naked men doused in oil rolling around on a canvas in front of a roaring crowd of rednecks. There’s a lot wrong with that statement, not the least of which is the fact that it leaves out female wrestlers entirely. However, just as many stereotypes do actually have some initial basis in truth, it is unfortunately understandable that women’s wrestling has been largely ignored by those with only the slightest idea of what professional wrestling is. The history of women in wrestling has had its ups and downs for decades now, never quite reaching the heights of their male peers. It’s just never been held in the same regard. However, this is about to change…

Going back several decades, women’s wrestling was never quite prominent. There are certainly legends from the past, such as the Fabulous Moolah, who was a pioneer in her own right, helping overturn a ban on women’s wrestling in New York and then going on to become the first woman to wrestle at the historic MadisonSquareGarden in 1972. In the world of wrestling, MGS is a highly respected and integral part of wrestling history, so that significance should not be downplayed. However, women’s wrestling at the time never managed to get even close to the same stature as men’s wrestling, ultimately suffering a downturn.

In the late 1990s, professional wrestling underwent a change going from something resembling a Saturday morning cartoon to an episode of Jerry Springer. The Attitude Era, as it came to be known, marked a drastic shift towards more adult content, frequently skirting the line of what was appropriate to show on American television. This wasn’t limited to just violence and cursing, but also came about in the form of more screen time for women. However, despite there being a few incredibly talented women wrestlers there at the time, much of that era is remembered for how much it appealed to teenage boys. It was something of a mess, really. On the one hand, you had Chyna, who became the first (and only) woman ever to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship, a belt that is considered second only to the WWE Heavyweight Championship. On the other hand, you had matches such as the bra and panties match, where the objective of the match was to tear off your opponent’s clothes until they were down to their underwear. On occasion, men did wrestle in similar matches, but it was meant to be an act of humiliation, and the top wrestlers never got even close to having to undergo something like that. For women, it was just part of the job.

In the decade to follow, this continued to be the trend, with highly talented wrestlers such as Trish Stratus and Lita contending for the spotlight with women who were mostly there just to look good on camera. After Trish and Lita retired in 2006, the prospects of women’s wrestling continued to grow dim with only a few exceptions. In 2013, WWE launched a new reality TV show on the E! network called Total Divas, which again led to a renewed focus on women though much less so in the context of wrestling. Women’s matches continued to be relegated to the status of bathroom breaks, a term that several women wrestlers have openly referred to in other media. Most indicative of this was the replacement of the WWE Women’s Championship title with the WWE Divas’ Championship. What once was a legit looking championship belt now essentially had a pink butterfly on it.

Then a funny thing started happening. A few years after the launch of its developmental brand, NXT, WWE started noticing that the brand was gaining in popularity. Overseen by a semi-retired wrestler by the name of Triple H, the brand’s focus on wrestling was in stark contrast to the WWE’s focus on “sports entertainment.” Suddenly, huge names on the independent scene started heading to NXT, leading it to become a haven for those wrestling fans who wanted to watch actual wrestling. NXT was the smaller brand, designed for wrestlers to hone their skills before heading to the massively larger crowds of WWE shows. A byproduct of this lack of corporate interference was a new focus on women’s wrestling.

Arguably, it started in 2013 with the first woman ever to be crowned the newly created NXT Women’s Champion (notice the name), Paige. This was a woman who grew up in the wrestling business, as both of her parents as well as her older brothers are all wrestlers. In fact, Paige’s mother was still wrestling while pregnant with Paige (until she found out she was pregnant, of course), so there’s a long-running joke that Paige has been at home in a wrestling ring even before she was born. When Paige moved up to the main WWE roster, she brought with her a more physical style of wrestling that hadn’t been seen much in the WWE Divas’ division. Her moves looked like they hurt, lending her a sense of credibility that had sorely been lacking in women’s wrestling.

Paige, the first ever NXT Women's Champion (left) and Charlotte, the last Divas' Champion (right)

Paige, the first ever NXT Women’s Champion (left) and Charlotte, the last Divas’ Champion (right)

After Paige left NXT, the stage was clear for four other women to emerge as the defacto standard bearers of women’s wrestling. It is these women that I want to focus on the most because it is through their hard-work that women’s wrestling has become more legitimate than it’s ever been. Individually, these women are Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, and Bayley. Collectively, they are known as The Four Horsewomen of wrestling.

To understand the significance of that title, you have to know that one of the most legendary factions in the history of wrestling is The Four Horsemen. Led by one of the most influential wrestlers of all time, Ric Flair, the group was recognized as a symbol of wrestling excellence, featuring some of the best wrestlers in the world with few exceptions (*ahem* Steve “Mongo” McMichael) in its various incarnations. The Four Horsemen are quite possibly the most prestigious group of all time, and their four fingered salute continues to be associated with the best of wrestling. With this in mind, it is incredibly indicative of the respect those four women have that they are able to associate themselves with a group as legendary as The Four Horsemen and be able to do so credibly.

Charlotte already has ties to The Four Horsemen, because she is actually the daughter of Ric Flair, the leader of the original faction. As the daughter of one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, Charlotte has a lot to draw from, but she manages to not only take a lot of the great attributes of her father, such as his cockiness, she is also able to add her own spin to things and can do moves that her father wouldn’t have even dreamed of. She also stands out among other women wrestlers because of her appearance; she’s tall and muscularly very well defined. She is believable as a physical force, and that’s something that has been lacking for so long in women’s wrestling.

On the subject of believability, Bayley is someone that the audience can truly believe in. It’s clear that she’s been a wrestling fan her whole life. There’s even a clip of her reading an essay she wrote in high school about wanting to become a wrestler. As she fights back tears of joy, she makes the funny remark that just about every essay she wrote had something to do with wrestling. She is so passionate about the business, which is something that you can find burning inside all of these women.

In days past, many women who would become “WWE Divas,” had little to no experience with wrestling before they were signed. At best, many of them had a passing interest as kids, but a lot of them just tended to see it as an opportunity to get on TV. It IS an entertainment business, after all. However, life-long passion for the business is something that comes across incredibly clearly in wrestling, and it’s certainly not something that can be faked. Fans gravitate towards these wrestlers, because they’re like them; they’re fans. Paige started wrestling when she was just 13 years old. Charlotte grew up in the business. Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, and Bayley all honed their craft on the independent circuit before making the transition to WWE and NXT. They’ve paid their dues, and worked hard to become wrestlers. And that’s the main thing that sets them apart: their goal was to become wrestlers, not sports entertainers or divas.

These women have taken a division that used to be the bathroom break division into something that often steals the show. That was unheard of just a couple of years ago. Yet on August 22nd, 2015, at an NXT special event called TakeOver: Brooklyn, Bayley and Sasha Banks had a show-stealing match for the Women’s Championship. It’s not just that the match itself was amazing on a technical level, with both women pulling off some flashy and legitimately dangerous looking spots. What made the match so special was that it mattered. Bayley, the challenger, had been attempting to claim the NXT Women’s Championship for months on end, coming incredibly close on many occasions but never quite making it. Sasha Banks, the cocky champ, routinely rubbed this fact in Bayley’s face. The crowd wanted, nay, needed Bayley to finally win. During the match itself, they told a continuously evolving story, taking their time, playing-up injuries, and keeping the audience guessing throughout. When Bayley finally managed to surprise Sasha with a high-risk move off the top corner followed up by her finisher, the post-match celebration was electric. People were genuinely happy to see that Bayley had finally accomplished her goal after months of working for it. Charlotte and Becky Lynch joined in on the celebration, running down to the ring to hug Bayley, showing happiness that couldn’t be faked. Even Sasha Banks momentarily put her character aside to congratulate Bayley, the four of them memorably standing side-by-side flashing the Four Horsemen four-fingered salute. This will go down in wrestling history as a truly significant moment. They had arrived.

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The Four Horsewomen (from left to right: Charlotte, Bayley, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch)

From there, Bayley and Sasha would go on to main-event the next NXT event, not only being the first women to close-out a large show, but they were also the first women to ever compete in an Iron Man match. The Iron Man match is a match-type tailor made to let wrestlers show off their technical skills. Running for 30 minutes, the wrestler with the most pinfalls and/or submissions by the end of the time limit would be declared the winner. Just the thought of having a women’s match take 30 minutes is mindboggling. Even most men’s wrestling matches take around 20 minutes at the most. Only the biggest matches take as long as 30 minutes, and even that’s rare.

Fast forward to this spring, and you now have a situation where Bayley faced one of the most legendary female wrestlers of all time in a brutal championship match. Asuka, under the ring-name Kana, was famous in her home country of Japan for her stiff wrestling style, using kicks and submission holds that looked legit. The fact that WWE would even consider bringing her to wrestle on their brand, not to mention the fact that she is already 34 years old, is a sign of how much the landscape has changed when it comes to women’s wrestling. And on the biggest stage of them all, Wrestlemania, in front of a crowd of 80,000, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, and Charlotte squared off in a triple-threat (3 way) match for the Championship as one of the main events of the night.

It used to be that WWE might throw in a 5vs5 throwaway match featuring all the women that would go on for maybe 5 minutes and would serve as a buffer before the main event of Wrestlemania. Now, arguably, these 3 women ARE the main event of Wrestlemania. Best of all, there was a special surprise reserved for this event. As announced during the pre-show by the aforementioned legendary female wrestler, Lita, the winner of the triple-threat match at Wrestlemania 32 would be crowned the first WWE Women’s Champion. The Divas’ Championship was to finally be retired because, as Lita pointed out, these new women wrestlers are much more than divas. They, like the men, are superstars. This alone speaks volumes, but I think that one of the coolest aspects of all of this is that the design of the WWE Women’s Championship looks incredibly similar to the most prestigious title in the business, the WWE Heavyweight Championship. Never before has a women’s championship looked almost exactly the same as the men’s heavyweight championship. This new design, if nothing else, is a visual indicator that they should be considered equals.

Women’s wrestling has gone through its ups and downs, with a lot of progress still left to be made. However, this is perhaps the first time in wrestling history where it seems that women’s wrestling is thoroughly on its way up, without a single bump downwards on the horizon. These female performers are legitimate wrestlers. Every fan, ranging from 8 year old girls to middle aged men, is firmly invested in these women. They cheer their good deeds, and boo their cheating ways. They sit on the edge of their seats as a match seems to be nearing its end. They jump up to their feet at the emergence of a victor. They know that what they’re watching isn’t a “divas” match. It’s a wrestling match with the best female wrestlers from around the world. The bathroom break will have to wait.

The WWE Heavyweight Championship (left) & The WWE Women's Championship (right)

The WWE Heavyweight Championship (left) & The WWE Women’s Championship (right)

Apparently “Value” Is a Four Letter Word Now

Jesper 2

I find myself at a bit of a loss for words. Maybe I spent them all on what turned out to be my longest article yet (but more on that later). Or maybe it’s because I currently find myself in that awkward phase between graduation and finding a steady job. It’s a weird state where you simultaneously feel proud of your accomplishments, but also have an almost disappointing sense of “now what?” Maybe this confused state of mind is why I find myself unable to think of a topic for this note. Maybe I’m not really sure where to go from here. Or maybe I’m being a tad melodramatic.

As I sit here looking at the sun setting behind some trees (by the way, I wish you could see this view), I’m listening to a song by The Mountain Goats called “This Year.” It makes me feel nostalgic for my time at the university, but it’s also a song about charging forward. In between verses of bittersweet reminiscing, there’s the cry of the chorus saying “I am going to make it through this year if it kills me!”

My first year out of university will most likely be defined by the work that I find. Unfortunately, quality work is something that seems to be increasingly undervalued these days. Back in January, Helsinki University announced plans to lay-off 570 employees by spring of 2016, and we’ve recently started to see some of these plans come into effect. It’s an effort to cut costs, but it’s an incredibly short-sighted way of looking at things. Getting rid of education is a surefire way to derail progress. We’re just digging a deeper hole now.

In addition to teachers and translators, this under-valuing can be seen regarding writers as well. I recently saw a series of tweets by an author named James Bloodworth who has written a book on the “difficulty [that] working class kids have breaking into professions because of [the] proliferation of unpaid work.” Because of the urgency of the topic, Bloodworth was approached by the Huffington Post website in relation to writing a piece about his book for them. He was interested until he found out that the Huffington Post would not actually be paying him. Just think about that for a moment. The sheer nerve of that site asking an author to write an article about the proliferation of unpaid work for free. The magical word that they offer in exchange is “exposure.” But you can’t buy food with exposure. But hey, whatever, giving exposure doesn’t cost them a thing. Sweet, huh? They’re essentially saying that the value of their writers is nil and, unfortunately, they are not the only sites doing this.

And I want to make a clear distinction here regarding sites like the Huff Post and BTSB. We’re a none-profit collection of writers looking to better our skills. As a group, we frequently discuss each other’s articles before and after a new issue comes out in order to help each other develop as writers. And yes, many of us might be doing this partially for that magical word “exposure.” Yet the difference here is that there aren’t people profiting from our writing. Every article is owned by the writer themselves, and they are free to do whatever they like with it. Rather than implying that the value of the BTSB editors is nil, I want to make it a goddamned point to say that their work is incredibly valuable. It makes me truly proud to be the Editor-in-Chief of such a talented group of people, and we value our work. We own it. THIS is the way to get exposure, not by helping other people get rich.

Our teachers and professors have been undervalued. Our translators have been undervalued. Our writers have been undervalued. Things need to change, and cutting costs is not the way to go about it. I do hope that we can make it through this, preferably with it not killing our value.

In this issue, we have an excellent variety of topics. For another perspective on writing professionally, you should check out Inka’s article on the qualms with getting the dream job. In other journalism related news, Kaisa takes Ylioppilaslehti to task for yet another one of their stunts. We’ve also got a few travel pieces right in time for the end of the school year, as Eve gives you a tour of Scotland, while Saara returns to tell you all about Italy. On top of that, you should definitely read Emma’s reaction to Anna Paavilainen’s powerful monologue “Play Rape.” If you’re looking for that longest article yet of mine that I mentioned earlier, you should read my piece on the womens’ revolution in professional wrestling that I hope you’ll find interesting even if you’re not a fan. Finally, if everything is getting a bit heavy for you, definitely check out Hanna’s brand new comic strips about living with her cat.

 We thoroughly hope you enjoy this issue. I value it highly.

Most sincerely,

Jesper Simola

Editor-in-Chief

Sources:
http://www.professoriliitto.fi/?x23370=504077
http://www.dailydot.com/lifestyle/james-bloodworth-huffington-post/

I Was Wrong About…Downton Abbey

I Was Wrong About logo1

Have you ever noticed that there’s an influx of articles about people showing off their knowledge about stuff, but very few where somebody admits that they were wrong about something? I tend to especially get annoyed by all of the obnoxious list articles with titles like “10 Movies You’ve Never Heard Of!” Don’t tell me what I haven’t heard of, dude. You don’t know me!

Anyway, my point is that we rarely see something where someone admits to being wrong, and I think there’s value to that. It can give insight into preconceived notions, and perhaps even lead someone else to realize they were wrong about the same thing. So, without further ado, here is the first edition of what will hopefully become a recurring series here in the hallowed pages of BTSB. It’s called “I Was Wrong About…”

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© Jesper Simola

This time, I was wrong about Downton Abbey. Yes, the incredibly famous and really quite popular British television show set during the early 1900s. As an English student who still can’t stand an ounce of Jane Austen type literature, I had always assumed that Downton Abbey would have nothing of interest to me. I was adamant that it was nothing but a dry, dull, and soap-operaish show where rich British people say stuff like “oh dear” and “quite.” I was sure of that despite having never actually seen an episode. But I was convinced that I didn’t need to watch it because it looked like Jane Austen-style stuff. Back in my high school days, I was a good and obedient student, yet I never was able to finish reading Pride & Prejudice. That’s how much I disliked it. It was the only assigned book that I never finished for my English course (if you’re reading this, Glyn, sorry!).

Needless to say, I was perfectly content with the idea that I would go through my life without ever watching a single episode of Downton Abbey. However, during some post-BTSB meeting drinks in late 2015, a fellow editor started telling me about Downton Abbey. She described a show full of twists and turns with incredible surprises that made her relate to shocked watchers of Game of Thrones whenever that series kills a beloved character. Now, I’m not even a watcher of Game of Thrones (yet another show that I think will not appeal to me…), but the comparison surprised me. By the end of the evening, I was convinced that I should watch at least one episode especially considering how easy it was for me to just stream them from Netflix. So, a day or two later, as I found myself with a night off, I decided to start streaming the first episode.

A few months later, I’m already on the fourth season, and will fully admit to loving Downton Abbey. Yes, I love this show! One of the things that I was most wrong about was the notion that the show was dry and dull. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Admittedly, the first episode is a bit slow and possibly even daunting, with so many new characters to be introduced to. The Crawley family alone includes Robert Crawley and his wife Cora, plus their three daughters, Mary, Edith, and Sybil, not to mention cousin Matthew and his mother Isobel, plus Robert’s mother, Lady Grantham. Joining them as part of the core cast is their servant staff made up of Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes, Mr. Bates, Mrs. O’Brien, Anna, William, Thomas, Gwen, Mrs. Patmore, and Daisy. It’s enough to make your head spin.

Yet one of the things that makes Downton Abbey so fantastic is that it manages to make you invested in each and every single one of these characters. It’s a feat for any show to develop a character that you can become emotionally invested in, yet this show manages to do that with over twenty characters. By the end of the first season, I was completely in love with several of these characters, while totally hating a couple of them. That’s one of the things that I love about Downton Abbey. The characters are so lovable and charming, that it feels comforting to watch the show. It’s like curling up beside a warm fireplace. Don’t get me wrong, though. This is not a show that is content to just coddle you. As the show has progressed, there have been several moments where I’ve found myself audibly saying “oh no…” as I start to see where a scene is headed. I have no qualms admitting that this show has left me heartbroken multiple times.

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Screen capture from “Downton Abbey”

Of course, drama was something I expected from Downton Abbey in any case, but something I was quite surprised by was how funny the show actually is. Maggie Smith’s Lady Grantham had me laughing out loud the very minute that she showed up. I’ve noticed that laughing out loud is a reaction that occurs significantly more easily when in the company of others, yet Downton Abbey has managed to make me laugh on multiple occasions. To me, that’s saying something significant.

On the topic of Lady Grantham, another thing the show does really well is that it naturally develops the characters. Using her as an example, she appears, at first glance, to be the sour matriarch figure, quick to make a sharp disapproving comment about kids these days. However, as the series develops, they will continue to peel back layers, revealing things about the characters that may surprise you and go against your preconceived notions about them. Yet, best of all, this never feels forced or unnatural. Even when you’re surprised by a character’s actions, you still can’t help but feel that, in retrospect, they make total sense.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t quickly mention the setting of the show. For history buffs (which I humbly count myself amongst), the early 1900s setting is wonderfully recreated and detailed. Actual events, such as the sinking of the Titanic and World War I, are woven into the story in significant ways. There are also more superficial references, scenes to make us laugh at how far we’ve come (or how much remains the same). Yet for the most part, the series does a really great job making full use of that “the times they are a-changin’” mentality of the period.

There is much more that I could say about this show, but to do so would venture into spoiler territories, which I will adamantly avoid in order to let you experience the show as I did. And that’s what I hope to have accomplished with this piece… That is, if you found yourself relating to me at the beginning of this piece, I hope you will brush aside your preconceived notions and give Downton Abbey a chance. After all, there’s nothing wrong with admitting that you were wrong about something…